July 22, 2024

Deer In The Garden

They’re after the good stuff in the garden. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

Water is not my beverage of choice. That is, until deer started eating my lilies. After I balked at online chemical repellents that cost as much as $199, Gabrielle reminded me that deer wouldn’t eat anything sprayed with urine. I began chugging water like it was a cold lager on a hot day.

I now collect the non-toxic, organic, aromatic waste stream daily in wide-mouth kambucha jars. Every evening the contents are liberally poured onto the garden’s dark soil – an all-natural deer repellent. Guess what? It works.

There’s a story here, of course. Three decades ago, true to a lifelong goal of living in a rural place, I left my job as a Washington-based correspondent for the New York Times to take up a new life in northern Michigan. I live in Benzonia, a village of 500 souls. It’s one of the six incorporated towns in forested Benzie County, none larger than 900 residents. Traverse City, the largest town in the region, is 35 miles away.

When I first got here — dirt roads , dense woods, osprey and bald eagles, cold trout streams, stout winters, deep snow, no fast food, and miles of beckoning Lake Michigan shoreline — it felt like the closest thing to the Oregon Trail that still existed in the lower 48.

These days, with newly paved roads and more million-dollar lakeshore homes, it no longer feels so untamed. I live within the village boundary in a two-story home surrounded by shrubs and perennial flowers in gardens that took decades to develop. Still,  every so often nature reminds you where you are.

Critters have a lot to feed on here. My hill garden in the back yard. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

This spring it took longer than usual to warm up. When it did, herds of deer came out of the woods and fields to feed on our garden. When they started to eat the tasty buds of the early-blooming lilies and zinnias I sought help.

Mind you, I’m no stranger to safe, pet-friendly, non-chemical, sustainable pest control. I treat ant invasions with boric acid. We plant marigolds to keep mosquitoes at bay. Mice that come in at winter’s start face two adopted shelter cats who also snag an occasional vole. Go cats!

The best way to deter varmints is to deny them the food they like. So our garden is mostly a showcase of  plants that deer shy away from — butterfly bush, lilac, lavender, Lamb’s ear, yellow coreopsis, iris, and daisies. I guess I missed the memo about lily buds and deer.

It turns out deer repellent is serious business. At the turn of the 21st century the U.S. Department of Agriculture formally evaluated repellents for their efficacy. Online gardening sites market all manner of repellent sprays, pellets, and granules, while  home remedy sites suggest raiding the kitchen spice shelf to spread red pepper flakes, hot sauce, garlic and onion powder. One site offers a how-to diagram for putting human hair and soap into pouches made from panty hose and hanging them in the garden.

Several friends — all excellent gardeners — joined my wife in suggesting I try urine instead. It’s free and starts working immediately. I had never tried it before because the deer damage had always been tolerable. Not this year. Quite literally the deer were pissing me off.

Very quickly, my campaign turned  into a family affair, with my wife contributing her daily jarful. And thanks to our new devotion to drinking water, we’re able to treat the gardens in the morning and at night. The deer’s lily bud salad bar has closed. The downside? Well, our small-town garden now smells a bit like a New York subway station.

At a party the other day, we told some friends what we’ve been up to. “Zoo poo!” one responded excitedly. “You want to scare off deer, hit them with the scent of caged lions.”

“Better than that,” said another. “Gorillas. You can buy gorilla poop.”

Who knew? Turns out, the Oklahoma City Zoo composts the solid waste from herbivores and sells packages online. I haven’t tried it, but Zoo Poo could contain enough unfamiliar scents to scare off deer.

As for gorillas. It’s available (along with elephant and pedestrian cow dung), as a gag in quart or gallon packages from poopsenders.com.

Every spring, our garden transforms dark soil and the sun’s generous light into sweet smells, glorious colors, and the promise of more to come with each passing day.

And now, when deer start chewing on my lilies, I have a ready response. You know whats coming. Just piss on ’em.

Saving flowers from predation. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

If you’re not quite ready to try my solution, there are a few exotic pest repellent sources you can try. If you’r5e looking for exotic natural pest repellents, try Zoo Poo, from the Oklahoma City Zoo, which may include elephant, rhinos, giraffes, camels, wildcat, ostrich, or zebra manure is also available in bulk orders from Minick Materials –  https://www.minickmaterials.com/compost-supplier

The Predator Store markets coyote urine ($99 for a 64-ounce bottle) and other predator pees. https://www.predatorpeestore.com/index.html

For less unusual repellents, try taking advantage of scents deer don’t like. 

Plant marigolds, lavender, mint, oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, putrescent egg solids, tansy, and garlic. Spread putrescent egg solids in the garden. Mix one raw egg with one gallon of water. Leave it out in the sun long enough for the egg to putrefy.

Good advice on all things gardening, including repelling deer, is available at Gardening Knowhow – https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/bulbs/tulips/protecting-tulips-from-deer.htm

— Keith Schneider

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